Happy birthday, Slate Plus: What’s working and what’s next for Slate's membership model.

What We Learned From the Launch of Slate Plus

What We Learned From the Launch of Slate Plus

Premium Slate content and experience
April 21 2015 10:50 AM

Happy Birthday, Slate Plus!

Our membership program had a blockbuster first year. What Slate Plus accomplished and what’s up next.

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Illustration by Charlie Powell

A year ago today, Slate launched Slate Plus, a brand-new membership program. We asked you, Slate’s readers, to give us money in exchange for a richer, smoother Slate experience, and as a way to support the journalism we do. The idea was to experiment with Slate’s business model and make the magazine less dependent on advertising revenue. And we also loved the notion of finding new ways to connect our writers, editors, and podcasters with our most loyal fans.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast.

We weren’t sure what would happen when we input the launch codes last April, but we were very gratified by the response. Thousands of you have joined Slate Plus since then, making this bold experiment a success. So I wanted to take this occasion to fill you in on what’s gone well, what didn’t work, and what we’ve got cooking for the year ahead.

First, a rundown on the range of benefits we launched with. For $5 a month or $50 a year, we offered you a special, members-only podcast feed that features ad-free, supersized versions of your favorite Slate podcasts; members-only stories and newsletters; early access to some of our biggest stories of the year and to the weekly Dear Prudence column; discounts to live events; an enhanced commenting experience; an end to pagination; and (for annual members) a swanky Jonathan Adler mug.

Of these, I think my personal favorite is the weekly Slate Plus newsletter, in which some Slatester explains what he or she does at the magazine, and highlights favorite stories from Slate that week. I always read it eagerly when it arrives in my inbox on Friday, because I love to see what our writers and editors admire in each other’s efforts for the magazine. (Also, we publish so much every week that the newsletter usually tips me off to at least one great piece in my own magazine I’d completely missed.) One of my favorite things about working here is how intellectually generous everyone is. And how funny. The newsletter is a good showcase for both of these qualities.

I’ve also really enjoyed having a way to pick the brains of the readers who love Slate best. Since I took over as editor last summer, I’ve been continually gratified to hear member comments and feedback on the work we do. Delighting readers, informing you, entertaining you, educating you—these are the motives that drive us all at Slate, and it’s great to have a place where you can tell us what’s working.

According to our metrics and research, the most popular elements of Slate Plus have been the podcast features and the behind-the-scenes articles our crack Slate Plus editors, Jennifer Lai and Jeff Friedrich, have helped produce. Slate Plus members have enjoyed eavesdropping on Slate debates (like this one Jessica Winter led about whether Slate’s too liberal, or these confessions from our tech writers about what gadgets they hate) and listening to special podcast extras, like this recent Political Gabfest bonus segment in which John Dickerson explained how he really feels about taking over as host of Face the Nation. (Spoiler: He’ll have to care about ratings.)

You also enjoyed it when we offered extra insight on our most ambitious editorial features. When we launched Slate’s Year of Outrage last December, Slate Plus members got the inside scoop on how we compiled 365 individual outrages, one for each day of 2014. When Seth Stevenson wrote a bravura account of one of the most amazing feats in the history of chess, Slate Plus members got an exclusive interview with the grandmaster who’d pulled it off.

Not everything we launched worked perfectly. Members didn’t like listening to Slate Plus promo language at the beginning of each podcast—so we axed it. It hasn’t been as easy to log in as it should be. And it took us too long to get Slate Plus working in our iPhone app (though it’s up and running there today). But throughout you’ve been communicative and patient, letting us know what you want more of and what benefits are most valuable to you.

As we plan for year two of Slate Plus, we’ve been working to offer more of the things you like best. We’re planning to launch something we’re calling the Slate Academy—ambitious surveys of interesting topics that are less news-driven than the work we do on the main site, and offer readers and listeners a chance to take a deep dive with Slate experts into subjects they are passionate about. First up, Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion have joined forces for a Slate Academy on the history of American slavery, covering hundreds of years of injustice by tracking the lives of nine individual slaves.

We’re also making some long-desired improvements to the Slate Plus user experience. We’ve been steadily reducing the number of ads Slate Plusters see on each Slate page, most recently disabling intrusive video ad units for members. We will have an improved login system and a customizable podcast feed for members in the next few weeks. And we’re launching a members-only leaderboard for the weekly Slate News Quiz, so you can see how your score stacks up against the scores of other members, and Slate staff. (I predict this will beget much trash-talk among Slatesters in the comments, so be prepared.)

One more thing: When we conducted our first Slate Plus member survey last fall, one result surprised us above all. When we asked you what you like most about Plus, we gave you a range of options—podcasts, articles, commenting experience, etc. But hundreds of you wrote in an answer we hadn’t included as one of the multiple-choice options: “I like supporting Slate.” We are grateful and humbled that so many readers feel that way, and your support makes us even more committed to producing work that informs and dazzles you.

If you’re a member, thanks so much for being a vital part of this grand experiment. And if you aren’t yet one, you can sign up for Slate Plus here. With all that we’ve got in store for the year ahead, there’s never been a better time to join.